Med. Advice needed: a REAL pain in the neck!

Have you ever slept in a weird position and then woke up to a REALLY friggin’ sore neck? Of course you have! So have I! You know how it is: a few days of carefully turning your head… a few aspirin or some Ben Gay helps a little, but not much… then it goes away after 2 or 3 days, until the next time.

I have had this happen to me several times, but now I have something similar happening, but a bit worse.

So, about 2 months ago I woke up and felt fine. Got in the shower, and while showering I felt a muscle in the back of my neck/upper portion of my back TIIIIGHTHEN up HARD over the course of about 5 seconds or so… leaving me with a REALLY bad case of that slept-in-the-wrong-position neck cramp! “Weird!” I thought, “Why the delay in the symptoms? I got out of bed maybe 30 minutes ago!” I (mentally) shrugged, very painfully completed my shower, got dressed went to work… after about a week, the pain in my neck had abated a little, but was still VERY much there. I was able to obtain a tube of Ben Gay at the black market store (it isn’t sold at pharmacies here in Korea, and as far as I can tell, they have nothing like it). The Ben Gay helped HUGELY, and a few days later, the pain was gone.

So now it’s about 2 months later. Yesterday I felt great! I met Astrogirl for lunch, and as we were walking into the restaurant, I felt the same muscle (I’m pretty sure) again TIIIIIIIIIIGHTEN up over the period of several seconds! By the time we sat down at our table, I was in pretty severe pain (if I moved my head at all; if I kept it perfectly still, my neck hurt a little, but not too bad…).

I pretended that nothing was wrong, of course… I am the Alpha Male, after all… but she eventually noticed that I was breaking into a cold sweat every time I took a bite of my food. She asked if something was wrong, and I told her that my neck was hurting, but didn’t elucidate. We proceeded to eat and do a few other things, and I went home at about 8, broke out the liquor, and dulled the pain a bit before going to bed early.

This morning, getting out of bed was a 5 minute ordeal of horrific pain, and I won’t even attempt to describe the shower that followed! I got dressed in slow-motion over the course of about 20 minutes, and went off to teach. Walking was tolerable if I did it SLOOOOWLY! But by the time I had reached my classroom on top of the hill, I had concluded that I was NOT teaching that day, but instead going to the hospital (now, understand that I HATE going to Korean hospitals to the point where I removed my own stitches a few years ago just to avoid going back! I tells ya I was/am HURTIN’!). I cancelled class, apologized to my students (as if! They were stoked not to have class, the little so-and-sos!)

So off to the hospital. Hours later, X-rays taken and examined, and I’m sitting in the Doctor’s office. The Doctor does not speak English. My Korean is good for “Yo! Waitress! More beer and Kim-chi!” or “So, you wanna go back to my place and remove your clothes?”

The Doctor began speaking in Korean, and I caught about every third word… I get first that I have a semi-herniated disk (he showed me really briefly on the X-ray… the second or third vertebra from the top shows a markedly smaller gap where the disk is than the other vertebrae…), however, he says, that is NOT the problem, and requires no treatment. OK, fine… I am somewhat relieved because I emphatically DO NOT want to have surgery here in Korea!! They’ll leave your fat ass naked on a gurney in the hallway for an hour while they do paperwork… I’ve seen it!:eek:

So, eventually I understand that the problem is that I have a muscle in my neck which has tightened up (I kinda already KNEW that!), and is pulling the vertebrae in my neck almost into a straight line (as opposed to the slightly “C” shaped curve that is normal). OK, but why? What have I done wrong? This has happened twice now, and I DON’T want it to happen again! It hurts! What can I do to prevent it?

I lacked the Korean to ask these questions… or (probably) to understand the answers (unless they involved “Yo! Waitress! Wanna take off your clothes?”:smiley: )

As a last ditch try, I borrowed his phone and called Astrogirl. Asked if she was busy, she said no, I told her I was in the hospital (“Why?!?” “My neck.” “But you said your neck only hurt a little!” “I lied, OK?”… etc.)… gave the phone to the doctor, explaining that this was a Korean friend, and could he explain what was wrong to her so that she could explain to me? He jabbered at her for a few minutes, and instead of handing the phone to me so she could interpret, and I could ask questions, he hung up!:mad: IDIOT!!

I debated briefly calling her back, but I had already been there for several hours, in pretty severe pain, and I just wanted out! So, I got my prescription and left… went to a pharmacy and got my meds (FYI: anti-inflamatories and muscle relaxers, which so far have done NOTHING, BTW… but I am impatient when in pain…), and came home…

I have spoken to Astrogirl on the phone, and she told me what the doctor said: basically what I understood from him, but answering none of my questions…

So, Dopers (or Dorkers, even! :p), I turn to you! What could cause this muscle tightening? How can I prevent it in the future? Am I doing something wrong? Help!!! Please!!!

Sorry this was so long…

In pain,


Wow, Astroboy, that sucks. What are the medications the doctor gave you?

Do you ever get muscle cramps in other parts of your body, specifically your legs? If so, you may need a little potassium.

I’d suggest a heating pad on the affected area (this will help greatly to reduce pain and relax the muscle), gentle massage and careful stretching when tolerable, and taking the muscle relaxers and antiinflammatories.

You should also take a good look at your bed and pillow to see if these are part of the problem. Is your mattress too soft? You should use a fairly firm, not-too-big pillow, too, and try to be conscious of how you sleep. Don’t sleep on your stomach. The goal is to keep your spinal column in a halfway-decent alignment.

Surgery is the last thing you want, whether it’s in a good hospital or not; it rarely gives good results for that sort of thing.

More than likely, the problem will go away by itself if you’re careful not to reinjure it. Unfortunately, I can tell you from much personal experience that it will not go away quickly enough.

Thanks for the quick reply, Holly!

I used to have muscle cramps really bad in my legs when I was about 11… due to growing really quickly (I reached 6’4" while in 6th or 7 grade…), but not in the past couple of decades… as for needing vitamins or minerals, I don’t think that’s it… as I take a multi-vitamin every day, and my diet is, well… uh… so-so. Not perfect, but not that great either… but I’m sure I’m getting the necessary vitamins and minerals every day.

I spent the greater portion of the day laying on a heating pad, and it didn’t help in the least… which is weird, as I was sure that it would help! (I used to be a CNA… so I do have a little medical training… just not much! Enough to worry me…).

Now: a point that you made that MAY very well have something to do with the problem! My matress is firm, but the pillow I usually double up, as it is too thin… maybe that’s the problem! Thanks for the input!

As for the meds, all I can tell you is that they are anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants (a total of about 6 pills)… the brand-names are different here (and I don’t know them in any case), so they would probably mean nothing to you…

I hope it goes away by itself, but I’m worried that it may not (as this is the second time in about 2 months it has happened. That’s what worries me…). And I don’t know how to NOT reinjure it if I don’t know how I injured it in the first place. :confused: Both times it happened, I was behaving normally (IE: not carrying anything, not bending in an unusual way, etc.)…

Weird, painful, stuff!

That should read: “Not perfect, but not that bad either…”


Good; we can rule out potassium (or other mineral deficiency) as a cause.

Even if you don’t feel the positive effects of the heating pad, keep it up. It’ll increase the circulation to the area so it’ll heal faster. (Of course, be sure the heating pad isn’t too hot!)

A new pillow may be what you need; it certainly couldn’t hurt. Be sure you get a happy medium between too-flat and too-puffy, so that it supports your neck in a comfortable and well-aligned position.

The weird thing about muscle pulls (especially those involving any part of the spine) is that you often don’t notice them at the time of the injury. It’s only several hours later when the pain hits; by then, you may have forgotten or never know at all exactly what caused the injury. Also, once a muscle is pulled, it’s very susceptible to reinjury from the slightest thing. It takes several months and sometimes years before the musculature is back to its original condition.

As an example, when my mom was a teenager over fifty years ago, she was taking her clothes off the clothesline, looking upwards, when she suddenly coughed and sneezed at the same time. (This is kind of funny, but also tragic.) She collapsed to the ground, unable to move; she’d torn her neck muscles so badly. That injury still gives her trouble to this day!

On a lighter note, a couple of years ago, I injured my back while pulling a patient up in bed. Although I felt no pain at the time, I knew by the soft “ripping” feeling that I’d done myself a world of hurt. By the next morning, that muscle had locked down in spasms so hard that I had difficulty breathing- I couldn’t expand my ribcage. I could not get out of bed. The pain was excruciating. Since then, that muscle has had a tendency to get pulled more easily, but it gets better as time goes by.

One more note: do not go to a chiropractor to treat this problem. Any spinal “adjustments” are liable to make the problem worse or even cause serious damage. Your muscles need rest; having someone yank on them would be a very bad idea.

Neck/shoulder strain is common. What you need to determine is whether or not you have a “pinched nerve” in the neck, This may be diagnosed by radiational pain or numbness into the upper extremity.

A lighter note?? Man! Yeowch!:eek:

I have had pinched nerves before, and I’m pretty sure this isn’t one… no numbness or radial pain.

I’m still thinking it might be the pillow thing… after I get the use of my neck back, I’m going to stop doubling it up and see if that helps to prevent this from happening again.

Anyways, thanks guys!:slight_smile:

Neck pain sucks. Muscle spasms can be due to potassium and calcium levels but in most cases these levels are normal. Spasms in the legs respond well to quinine, but antispasmodics may not be indicated for an intermittent pain in the neck. It’s an option, though.

At least you don’t have a tortiocolis. Often patients with this problem are shocked and disgruntled to learn for a couple days their head is tilted to one side.

Better posture, better pillow, don’t keep that axe under the pillow anymore. Try daily ibuprofen for a week.

I used to wake up with a sore neck–though not nearly as sore as yours, from your description–and so I switched to a makura (Japanese pillow filled with buckwheat hulls). It will give you better support than the thin doubled-up pillow.
Now I wake up virtually pain-free.
Can’t hurt to try it. The problem is, where do you get it in Korea… I have seen them in various health care/supply catalogs. I’m sure they must be available online as well.

Good luck to you!!!